Matan Kahana: the Religious, Conservative Politician Taking On Israel’s Rabbinic Establishment

One of the little-noted facts about the Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is that he is the country’s first Orthodox head of government; moreover, religious Zionists are his Yamina party’s key constituency. Unlike Ḥaredim, members of this heterogeneous group serve in the military, generally embrace secular education and work, and, most saliently, wear knitted kippot. Matan Kahana, another Yamina member and the current minister of religious affairs, perhaps embodies this group’s ethos, which can be seen in his attempts to reform the chief rabbinate—efforts that have attracted intra-Orthodox controversy and in a roundabout away led to the current coalition crisis. Matti Friedman writes:

Kahana came to the attention of many Israelis for the first time last June, after the formation of the new government, amid a furious day in the Knesset during which the Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties, shocked to find themselves removed from power after twelve years, shouted down the coalition’s speakers and disrupted attempts by the new government to present its platform. . . . The ultra-Orthodox MKs had been shouting at Bennett and Kahana to “take off their kippahs.” At the podium, a furious Kahana directed a startling attack at one of the most vociferous of those lawmakers, Moshe Gafni.

The religious-secular fight has been going on since the creation of the state and is familiar to everyone here, but Kahana was saying something different. He wasn’t speaking against religion—he was saying that he was religion, that his religious Zionism was as authentic as the non-Zionist stringency of the ultra-Orthodox, if not more so. He wasn’t throwing out the rabbinic bureaucracy. He was saying the wrong rabbis were in charge.

Kahana is not a liberal. He’s a different kind of religious conservative. “Israel is an Orthodox country,” he told me, and will remain that way in the absence of a wave of new immigrants from liberal Jewish denominations. A compromise to allow non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall should have passed years ago, he said, but he’s not going to be the one to pass it now, because doing so would endanger the coalition’s fragile hold on power. “I don’t want to disappoint my Reform brothers, and I’m choosing my words carefully—my Reform brothers,” he said. “But I’m an Orthodox Jew, a conservative.”

Part of this insistence is an attempt to protect his flank from attempts to portray him as a closet liberal intent on undermining traditional Judaism. But it’s mostly genuine. His reforms are not aimed at weakening the Jewish DNA of the state, but the opposite. He wants a more Jewish Israel. “The less we force Judaism,” he said, “the more people will choose it.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Israeli politics, Judaism in Israel, Religious Zionism

Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria